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Update regarding National Interest Exceptions for travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom and Ireland

The Department of State (DOS) has issued updated guidance regarding National Interest Exceptions for certain travelers in connection with Presidential Proclamation 10143, which suspends entry of foreign nationals who have been physically present in more than 30 countries experiencing high levels of COVID-19 within 14 days preceding entry into the United States.

Previously, a National Interest Exception would be considered for “certain technical experts and specialists, senior-level managers and executives, treaty-traders and investors, professional athletes, and their dependents,” which effectively covered most individuals traveling to the U.S. on a valid nonimmigrant work visa. If the traveler qualified and obtained a National Interest Exception, they were permitted entry after being physically present in the 26 nations in Europe’s “Schengen Area,” the United Kingdom and Ireland.

However, the DOS rescinded that criteria earlier this week, effectively eliminating the connection to specific job titles and responsibilities. Instead, the agency will now consider National Interest Exceptions for those who are entering the U.S. to support a critical infrastructure sector.

Going forward, any foreign national on a nonimmigrant visa seeking to return to the U.S. from the Schengen Area, UK or Ireland – and who is not otherwise exempt – must apply for a waiver from a U.S. consulate, based on their support of a critical infrastructure sector as designated by the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

This updated standard only applies to National Interest Exceptions for the Presidential Proclamation limiting travel from the Schengen Area, UK and Ireland. The previous National Interest Exception criteria generally remains unchanged for those entering the U.S. from the other restricted countries including Brazil, Iran, China and South Africa.

Additionally, the previously established criteria for a National Interest Exception for the entry of certain employment-based nonimmigrant visa holders also has not changed.

Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm continues to recommend that individuals avoid travel, if possible. An individual who travels to a restricted country and fails to obtain a National Interest Exception, unless otherwise exempt, will be required to quarantine for 14 days in a non-restricted country before entering the U.S.

Other National Interest Exceptions

Academics, students and journalists continue to be eligible for National Interest Exceptions.

“Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel,” a press release from the State Department read. “Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.”

Further, National Interest Exceptions continue to be granted to “qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.”

Individuals who may qualify for a National Interest Exception should consider consulting with experienced immigration counsel.


As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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